This paper will consider e‐learning in terms of the underlying learning processes and interactions that are stimulated, supported or favoured by new media and the contexts or communities in which it is used. We will review and critique a selection of research and development from the past fifty years that has linked pedagogical and learning theory to the design of innovative e‐learning systems and activities, and discuss their implications. It will include approaches that are, essentially, behaviourist (Skinner and Gagné), cognitivist (Pask, Piaget and Papert), situated (Lave, Wenger and Seely‐Brown), socio‐constructivist (Vygotsky), socio‐cultural (Nardi and Engestrom) and community‐based (Wenger and Preece). Emerging from this review is the argument that effective e‐learning usually requires, or involves, high‐quality educational discourse, that leads to, at the least, improved knowledge, and at the best, conceptual development and improved understanding. To achieve this I argue that we need to adopt a more holistic approach to design that synthesizes features of the included approaches, leading to a framework that emphasizes the relationships between cognitive changes, dialogue processes and the communities, or contexts for e‐learning
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